The Internet Opens to New Perspectives
By: Leona Kim
Research was once contained in libraries and required a working understanding of the card catalog. The growth of the Internet, however, has given students the ability to reach the world from their worktables. With the availability of information from the Internet, students are open to investigate information that may not agree with a textbook narrative.
Original documents, writers and researchers, that were once blocked by the narrow media filters can now be reached through the broad access the Internet allows. Although many such sources provide well-founded information, their perspectives are often ignored by the mainstream media and some leaders of academic opinion because their discoveries challenge the narrative formed by the “conventional wisdom.”
The Anti-Federalist Papers are among the original documents that students can easily access and analyze on their own. The Anti-Federalists both fought for independence from the British Empire and opposed a centralized governing power, and rather preferred the states remain as “free and independent states,” as so proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence and kept as such by the Articles of Confederation. Consequently, they opposed the ratification of the constitution and wrote arguments that resonate even today.
The Anti-Federalist No. 9 is particularly prescient on its insights about how a centralized government would be tempted to control information. A Pennsylvanian, known only by the pseudonym Montezuma, wrote as a member of a mythical “Aristocratick Party” in this satirical missive, “We have for some time considered the freedom of the press as a great evil—it spreads information, and begets a licentiousness in the people which needs the rein more than the spur; besides, a daring printer may expose the plans of government and lessen the consequence of our president and senate—for these and many other reasons we have said nothing with respect to the ‘right of the people to speak and publish their sentiments’ or about their ‘palladiums of liberty’ and such stuff.”
Later, he even foretold some of the concerns that have been voiced over the NSA and the Patriot Act by suggesting, with a clear elitist tone, “We do not much like that sturdy privilege of the people—the right to demand the writ of habeas corpus. We have therefore reserved the power of refusing it in cases of rebellion, and you know we are the judges of what is rebellion….”
Jim Powell, a senior fellow at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute, is one such commentator who has written books that have challenged the textbook narrative of America’s participation in World War I (Wilson’s War: How Woodrow Wilson’s Great Blunder Led to Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, and WWII) and the New Deal. Powell’s research on Franklin Roosevelt’s Depression-era program has led him to observe that such programs as the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 cut back production and forced wages above market levels, making it expensive for employers to hire people.
On the web, you can find a perspective different from the mainstream assumed viewpoints.
The Internet does not only provide a forum for those thinkers who have been marginalized by the mainstream, but it offers any individual with a desire to open various viewpoints to the world with the means to pursue their passion. One such individual is Doug Long, who has a website that is critical of America’s use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima at the end of WWII.
Long’s site is simply links to books, articles, and even government documents that challenge the narrative that the atomic bomb was dropped to spare the lives of soldiers that would be lost in an invasion of Japan. Among the most compelling documents on his site, in defense of his position, is a compendium of quotes by generals and political leaders during WWII who opposed using the weapon. Long has cited sources for all the quotes such as that from Dwight Eisenhower’s memoir, Mandate for Change, wherein the late general and president declared on the use of the atomic bomb that he had, “grave misgivings…on the basis of [his] belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary.”
Although these Internet sources investigate individuals and sites that challenge popular standpoints on history, any subject can be easily investigated from a student’s living room thanks to the easy access of information on the Internet. Due diligence must be taken, however, to determine the quality of the information that is being used to promote a controversial position. A student with the freedom to investigate issues that challenge common portrayals from textbooks must take steps to scavenge for primary sources, and research authors’ or a website’s credibility.
Great opportunities also offer great risks, and taking any information from the Internet as valid can lead individual students to follow after corrosive, and even dangerous, ideas and beliefs. The dangers, however, can be reduced with calm diligence to verify the quality of information that is found, especially if it runs counter to a textbook narrative.